Premature birth: questions to ask

Premature birth: questions to ask

Why it's good to ask questions about premature birth

It's completely understandable if you feel worried about yourself or your baby in the lead-up to a premature birth.

These worries might feel even bigger if you have to go through a birth you haven't planned in a hospital you don't know. You might have less privacy and more discomfort than you expected. It can all feel out of your control.

One way to feel a bit more in control is to get information by working out what you need and want to know and asking some questions.

Where premature babies are born

One big question might be - where will I have my premature baby?

You'll most likely need to give birth in a standard birthing suite at a hospital, rather than at home or at a birthing centre.

If your premature baby or babies will be very early - 32 weeks or earlier - you might need to give birth in a hospital that has a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), rather than the hospital you're booked into.

Hospitals with NICUs are usually in bigger cities. If you live in a regional, rural or remote area, you might have to go to a city hospital before the birth.

If your baby is born at a hospital without a NICU and needs to go to one, the hospital will use a specialised ambulance called NETS (neonatal emergency transport service) or PIPER (paediatric infant perinatal emergency retrieval). This is like a mobile NICU, staffed by a nurse and/or doctor. If the hospital with the NICU also has a maternity unit, you might be able to transfer there after the birth, once you can travel.

Most hospitals with NICUs also have accommodation, but this is limited and usually available only for regional or remote parents while their baby is in the NICU.

What will happen during and after a premature birth

Knowing what to expect during a premature birth might help with some of your worries. It can help to talk to your doctor or midwife to find out more about the birth, what will happen afterwards and how the medical staff will support you. Your doctor or midwife will usually be able to arrange for you to talk to the medical team who will care for you and your baby.

Here are some questions you can ask your doctor or midwife about labour and birth and how they'll support you.

Premature labour and birth

  • I'm feeling really upset about all this. It's not what I expected, and I'm really worried about my baby. What can you do to help me?
  • Will you explain things simply so that I can understand?
  • Do you know why my labour has started, or will start, so early?
  • Can I still have my birth preference - for example, a vaginal delivery, caesarean, no pain relief? If not, why not?
  • I haven't had a chance to go to any birth classes. Will you help me breathe through the contractions and manage my labour?
  • Will I be able to get pain relief during labour?
  • Will I need any medications? Why? What will the medications do?
  • Will you tell me how my labour is going and how my baby is going?
  • Can my partner stay with me until after the baby is born?

My premature baby

  • Can I see and touch my baby immediately after the birth?
  • What will my baby look like, how big will he be, and what support will he need after the birth?
  • Will my baby need to go to the NICU? How soon after birth?
  • Will I or my partner be able to go to the NICU with our baby?
  • When will I be able to hold my baby?
  • Will my baby need any medications? Why? What will the medications do?
  • Will my baby need any equipment? Why?
  • Will my baby live?

Everything hurt when the nurses at the hospital attached two monitors that showed I was in labour. My contractions were two minutes apart. The doctor arrived and was great - informing us of each step, every consequence, the possible outcomes. No time. A general anaesthetic. I was scared - not for me but our baby.
- Cheryl, mother of a 33-week premature baby